Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
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Video games age ratings set for modernisation - Government implements Byron recommendations

Video games age ratings set for modernisation - Government implements Byron recommendations

DEPARTMENT FOR CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT News Release (081/2008) issued by The Government News Network on 31 July 2008

Government implements Byron recommendations

A consultation on ways to improve how video games are classified was announced by Culture Minister Margaret Hodge today.

A new, legally enforceable system of age classification will help to make sure that video games are played by the appropriate age group, giving parents, retailers and consumers the guidance they need to make informed choices.

Clinical psychologist Dr Tanya Byron, in her report Safer Children in a Digital World, recognised the potential for learning, development and enjoyment that has come with the growth of video games, but also identified a need to protect children and young people from harmful or inappropriate material.

She recommended a reform of the classification system for rating games that is flexible and appropriate for the internet, and carries a single set of trustworthy and recognisable symbols.

Culture Minister Margaret Hodge said:

"The current system of classification comes from a time when video games were in their infancy. In recent years there have been extraordinary developments in technology, with increasingly realistic gameplay and highly evolved storylines. At the same time more and more games are now accessed on line.

"We have also seen a big growth in games aimed at a grown-up market, which invariably include scenes unsuitable for young people. The games market has simply outgrown the classification system, so today we are consulting on options that will make games classification useful and relevant again."

Dr Tanya Byron said:

"I welcome this period of public consultation. While my recommendations centred on the issue of child safety, I emphasised in my report the important contribution that all stakeholders have to make to this debate."

Currently there are two parallel systems in place for rating video games in the UK.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has the power to impose legally enforceable age limits on games that depict certain violent or sexual behaviour, or to ban games completely. All other games are classified by PEGI, a non-enforceable pan-European system set up voluntarily by the video games industry and administered in the UK by the Video Standards Council.

The Government is now seeking views on four options for video games classification. Those options are for:

* a hybrid of the current BBFC and PEGI systems, with a legal requirement for the BBFC to rate all games suitable for players over the age of 12;

* a system based solely on PEGI ratings, but enforceable by law;

* a system using only BBFC ratings; or

* a continuation of the current arrangement, backed up by a code of practice to ensure that retailers and suppliers comply with the system.

Notes to editors

1. Dr Tanya Byron's review of the internet and video games and their impact on young people reported in March 2008. Further information is available at:http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2008_0060

2. The four classification options detailed in the consultation document are:

I. BBFC/PEGI (Pan-European Game Information) hybrid system

The BBFC would rate all games that are only suitable for players over the age of 12, with PEGI continuing to rate all 3+ and 7+ games. The BBFC logos would appear on the front of all boxes, with the PEGI logos on the back.

The BBFC would extend its statutory powers to cover games from 12+, bringing it into line with the classification system used for DVDs and videos and building on parental awareness and understanding of what those ratings mean. For this to work best, the BBFC and PEGI would need to agree to harmonise their logos and age classifications so there is no further potential for confusion.

II. Enhanced PEGI system

A UK-based organisation (potentially the Video Standards Council) would be the designated statutory classification body for video games, applying the PEGI ratings. The VSC (or other UK body chosen) would need to sign up to this new role and any other legislative duties required of it. All video games would be rated using the PEGI system and the only role for the BBFC would be in classifying film content which is not integral to the game.

III. BBFC only system

The BBFC would act as the sole statutory classifications body for all video games, applying its ratings from U to 18. It would retain its power to refuse to classify games it feels are potentially harmful based on its public consultations.

IV. Voluntary Code of Practice

There would be no changes made to the legislation so BBFC and PEGI would continue to classify games as they currently do. The current system of dual classification and labelling would continue to exist. The Government would then ask retailers and suppliers to sign up to a voluntary Code of Practice to ensure that they adhered to the classification system when supplying video games to children aged 12 or above, even though a statutory offence would not be committed if they broke the Code.

Dr Byron's Review recommended the nine essential elements of any new classification system for video games:

1. There must be a trustworthy, uniform and clear set of symbols or labels to categorise the age ratings with accompanying descriptors which explain game content.

2. There must be the power to refuse to certify certain titles so they cannot be sold (or supplied) in the UK.

3. There must be a statutory basis to the video game classification system from the age of 12 onwards.

4. There should continue to be a non-statutory system up to the age of 12.

5. Any system must be flexible and future proof.

6. The system must work for the games industry.

7. The system must support retailers.

8. The system must reflect the evidence on potential harm.

9. Government and industry must take into account how the system will translate into online gaming.

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